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Why I Think Creating A Transgender Durga Is Problematic

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By Somrita Urni Ganguly:

Durga is Kali. Durga is Parvati. Durga is Shakti.

Durga is a warrior. Durga is time. Durga is a protector.

No matter which version of the myth you choose to believe, Durga is a mother, a woman, a fertile creator.

According to the Shiva Purana, Shiva had invoked Durga, in the form of Parvati, so that together they could create.

According to Devi Mahatmya, the male pantheon, when unsuccessful in checking the demoniac powers of Mahisasura, created Durga in the form of Shakti to quell the forces of evil.

durga puja

And therefore I have reservations with the creation of a transgender idol of Durga at the Jay Mitra Sarbojonin (community) – a small neighbourhood off Kumortoli, the humble potters’ quarter in North Calcutta.

That the transgender community suffers a woeful predicament in this country is an acknowledged fact. Previous articles for Youth Ki Awaaz bear testimony to the fact that I personally, fiercely fight for their human rights and champion their cause – not that I need to testify. However, I cannot fully comprehend the rationale behind creating a transgender Durga.

Anybody familiar with Hindu mythology would know that the concept of the Ardhnareshwar – or the androgynous superpower – is not an alien one. It is the union of purush (the male principle) and prakriti (the female principle) that gives birth to time, that creates life. It is necessary, in the present context, to highlight the essential double-standards of a society that worships the idea of the Ardhnareshwar, but ostracizes members of the transgender community. However, in my opinion, to recreate Durga in the image of the Ardhnareshwar is problematic.

The politics of Durga being a woman and then being gifted – or, however, you choose to read the story – with weapons that belonged to male deities, who collectively lost in their several attempts to control Mahisasura, is an idea that we still need to sustain our discourse on now, because of the everyday living realities of women, not just in this nation, but the world over.

Championing the rights of one community cannot come at the cost of another. That is precisely why the first two waves of feminism had to be replaced by Third Wave Feminism because when we talk rights we cannot, in an extremely dilettante fashion, talk merely of the rights of a heterosexual, middle class, normative, white, working woman. We need to include in the polemics the rights of the Adivasis of Africa, the Dalits of India, the lesbians of Latin America and the transgender community of Columbia.

Why Durga Needs To Stay A Woman

Legend in Bengal says that without adding the punya mati (pure soil) obtained from a nishiddha palli (forbidden territory) to the clay figure of Durga, the idol is not complete. The rationale behind such an act is interesting: that when a man enters a brothel for sexual gratification, he leaves his virtues behind at the threshold, thus rendering the land under the feet of the sex-worker pure. And this soil has to be begged off and collected particularly from the hands of a sex-worker. It is believed that the Goddess cannot be satisfied unless a sex-worker ‘blesses’ the idol maker by giving him some punya mati from her nishiddha territory.

There is a poignant sense of beauty in this whole act of seeing a man begging a sex-worker – the same person that he would otherwise chastise and rebuke – for some pure soil from under her impure feet in an attempt to please an imagined construct of a Goddess. That the Mother Goddess (or the idea of Durga) stands for other suffering women, in whatever little way she can, is indeed something that we need to take note of. As a woman, she is both the beloved and the betrayed; both the sinner and the saint.

And therefore Durga needs to remain a woman while we simultaneously fight for the rights of other women and queer individuals – sex workers, lesbians, bisexuals, gays, and transgenders. Because her being a woman is simultaneously liberating and a reason for hope, along with being a manifestation of the essential hypocrisy of a patriarchal society.

Ya devi sarvabhuteshu shanti rupenna samasthitaa – let us hail that devi, that woman, who exists in all beings in the form of peace, consciousness, intelligence, sleep, hunger, power, thirst, modesty, faith, beauty, kindness, delusion, and contentment. (Stotra from Devi Mahatmya).

And let us hail the Ardhnareshwar, the union of man and nature, male and female – the originator of life. Let us hail them simultaneously, but separately. And let us imbibe from these separate myths, the basic idea of respecting individuals, just the way they are.

You must be to comment.
  1. Adya

    Man and nature? Or do you mean humans and nature? And what does it mean?

  2. Pallavi Sharma

    Dear Urni,

    You make your point well. Durga has historically symbolized the ‘feminine power’, for the want of a better phrase. However, when we dismiss or rebuke an attempt to envision the Goddess in departure from what is customarily accepted, aren’t we pandering to the same social framework that breeds contempt for those who depart from their socially prescribed roles? I understand where you are coming from when you say that one cannot push for a cause at the cost of another. What befuddles me is the process of reaching the universal agreement on which battle to be fought first. When India was fighting for independence, feminist pursuit for rights took a back-seat to the fight for a national and political identity. One may be compelled to wonder if the space of political resistence and dialogue was so restricted that it could only accommodate one voice for one cause.

    Great post! Keep up the good work 🙂

    Pallavi

  3. Saksham Bhatnagar

    Really? so being a woman is about having a vagina, is it? So the transgender idol cannot bear the female Durga? news flash! gender and sex are NOT EQUAL. i thought this was a basic feminist concept! you dont have to have a certain set of genitals to be a woman. nor do you need to present a certain way! the transgender idol is female too! and guess what? there are a hundred female idols with a feminine presentation all over Kolkata. but oh no, the trans people cannot make their own idol which they can identify with! the trans people don’t get to venerate the Mother as they see Her. no?

    really, there are idols which have blackened faces, idols which have no stomach, idols which look like aliens or Durga knows what else. But how dare they make Durga trans?! ugh, this post makes me sick.

    know this. Durga the warrior is symbolic of breaking heteropatriarchal biases. when she picks up the weapons of the other gods and adorns the yagyopavit out of her own kundalini, she is breaking the stereotype that women are supposed to be demure docile slaves to be kept inside the house, away from public gaze. and no, your cis privilege will not bind Her either.

    a girl is worshipped as Durga in the Kumari Pujan in a Durgotsav. later on She goes on to identify as a trans man or a lesbian or gender queer or gender fluid. does it mean She stops being Durga?! Does it mean she wasn’t Durga when she was worshipped?

    you might not identify with a trans Durga. But it does not give you a license to take a dump over the worship of others. You are no one to comment on it, unless you are the pujari worshipping the idol for the community or the maker of the idol. this sort of opinion is what has offended me to write on why the Trans Durga is a great idea.

    oh and did i mention? Durga is NOT FERTILE! She was cursed by Rati to never be able to give birth by natural means.

    1. Anwesh

      Thank you! Could not have framed it better.

      I find it weird when cis straight women bulldoze over trans rights. Like they don’t face enough persecution.

  4. Ritwik Goswami

    Ugh! Medieval minded-ness flashing through. What a shitty article. Quietly reiterating that a cis-gendered straight woman will always be superior to a transgender, are you? Ugh!

  5. Vid

    I think its a great idea. By making Durga transgender nobody is denying Durga of her feminine power. But it conserves the basic idea of Hinduism – feminity is power. And that feminity cannot be defined by just having a vagina. Trans also face sexism horribly. And everyone should know that in Hinduism trans, lesbians and gays were never considered abnormal. In fact, they were given a more privileged status. This is also why Hinduism philosophy can never be compared with other religions.

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